Can one prove a negative hypothesis?
It's usually very difficult to prove a negative hypothesis, but when a claim of attributes of a deity are made, and those claims have evidence that they do not exist, then it is partial proof of the non-existence of said deity.
The claim: The God of the Bible hears prayers and answers them in the affirmative.
"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." (Matthew 21:22)
"Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (Mark 11:24)
And a more current claim: the God of the Bible hears prayers and answers yes, no or maybe.
Both of these claims can be proven false by the 49 prayer studies during the past 52 years. Most studies use hospitals because there is no greater place where prayers happen, other than a church, synagogue or mosque. Turns out that people of all faiths as well as atheists get healed the same. No one faith is healed greater than another. An atheist's "hopes" get answered just the same as a Christian's/Jew's/Muslim's (pick any religion) "prayers."
But wait — "God planned it that way," Christians say. "God knows you're doing the study so he heals everyone the same." Why does he do such a thing? "God wants to remain hidden," they respond.
Excuse me for a moment, but there are multiple things that seem out of place here.
First of all, God wasn't hidden 2,000 years ago. And if God is here now, where are those ultra-miracles to be seen? Secondly, how does anyone know what God wants (if He exists)? It seems to be a terribly inadequate answer that's just made up to appease the believers who will accept it along with their confirmation bias. Thirdly, does this mean that these measly humans can change the mind of God simply by doing a study? If we do a study on any subject, does the same reasoning apply? If so, all of the scientific studies in the history of science can be labeled moot. What if someone is praying not for the hospital patients but for the study itself (to prove there is a God)? Would God then answer those prayers by proving He can actually change/heal anyone? Fourthly, what about all those poor patients in the hospitals who could have been healed by God if we weren't doing the study!
This doesn't prove that God absolutely does not exist, but it sure puts a dent in anyone thinking that prayer works. And if prayer doesn't work, why pray?
BRUCE GLEASON is the director of Backyard Skeptics and Freethought Alliance and is recently responsible for placing secular-oriented billboards in Orange County.